Get jabbed or get fined - the controversial decision by Austria in its fight against Covid

ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar finds out how people are reacting to the mandate in Austria

Austria is about to embark on a new COVID policy which is not only going to set a first amongst European and other leading industrial nations, but is also drawing the intense interest of other EU countries.

This month it will become the first European country to impose a mandatory vaccination programme for all its citizens aged over 18.

Other nations, such as France, has mooted the idea - but no other has actually prepared a law that is going into effect.  

It is a watershed moment and has led to intense debate, political divisions and demonstrations across Austria pitting the government’s desire to defeat COVID and prevent a threat to the health system, against millions of citizens who believe that the government ordering people what to do with their bodies is an infringement of the most basic human rights and freedoms. 

Thousands of Austrians have been protesting against the mandate. Credit: ITV News

2 million Austrians, out of a population of 9 million are unvaccinated. Once the mandate comes in they will face a fine of up to €3600.

Austria’s Constitutional Affairs Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, who had a major part in drafting the new law told me; “It is without doubt that the vaccine mandate is of course an infringement with human rights, but it is also clear that a lockdown is an infringement of human rights and your personal freedom.

"And we had to make a decision and our decision is clear. We think that it is less serious to have the vaccination mandate than going from one lockdown to the other because the goal of the government and the responsibility of a government is to uphold the health system.”

As the new mandate has come closer, thousands of people have been protesting against it, as well as a lockdown which had been imposed just for the unvaccinated.

The fine may convince some to take the jab, but there are a hardcore of vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-denying Austrians who say they will never take the jab.

What the Austrian government does about them is the big question.

Watch On Assignment on ITV at 10.45pm on Tuesday February 1.